St. Pete ponders civil citations for marijuana possession
A St. Petersburg City Council committee asked the county to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana Thursday, but also authorized city attorneys to draft a municipal ordinance in case the county doesn't act.
"If the county says no, I'm still going to say yes," said council member Steve Kornell, a school guidance counselor, who proposed the city ordinance. He asked the city attorneys to include a time frame for the county to act before the city proceeds unilaterally.
His proposal would allow police to give a ticket with a fine to someone possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana --about 3/4 of an ounce.
St. Petersburg Police Department attorney Sasha Lohn-McDermott recommended that any civil citation program be a countywide ordinance with "teeth" that allows police to collect data on offenders and sets deadlines for fines to be paid.
Miami-Dade, Miami Beach, Fernandina Beach and Hallandale Beach have all implemented civil citation programs this year and some of their police departments have reported trouble collecting fines, she said.
"People are realizing, I don't have to pay the fine because the city is not going to do anything," Lohn-McDermott said.
Typically, fines are about $100 for the first offense. Some of the Florida cities have graduated fines for subsequent arrests.
Several council members said they didn't want to send the wrong message to young people about marijuana use. But they said the racial disparities in marijuana arrests and the spiral effect of the arrests---losing a driver's license for one year, for example---outweighed their concerns.
"I don't want to see small possession as something that affects the trajectory of the rest of your life," said council member Darden Rice, who spoke emotionally about the recent death of her nephew from drug-related activity.
The police arrested 308 people between June and August on marijuana charges, although many of those arrests had additional charges, Lohn-McDermott said.
The Public Service Committee voted unanimously to approve a resolution asking the county to act while city attorneys prepare a draft ordinance to bring back to the committee.